Have we traded the tyranny of the minority for the tyranny of the majority?

Threats of exercising the so-called "nuclear option" turned to action this week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led the move to change from 60 to 51 the number of votes necessary to cut off a filibuster over judicial and executive appointees.

By a vote of 52-48, the move effectively stripped the minority party of any power of dissent in the appointment of federal judges, cabinet members or executive appointees to head federal agencies. In this regard, the filibuster will remain on the books in name only, since a simple majority could invoke cloture and nip the effort in the bud. 

The vote would not, however, have stopped Sen. Ted Cruz's hours-long homage to Dr. Seuss, in protest of Obamacare. A supermajority of 60 votes is still required to invoke cloture in legislative debates. 

We applaud the attempt to overcome one factor contributing to the gridlock that has effectively paralyzed the Senate for the better part of a decade. The kind of gridlock that has allowed agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to remain leaderless for seven years, under both Democrat and Republican administrations.

The kind of gridlock that drove Maine's veteran, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to leave the Senate after openly expressing frustration with the rancorous tone of what passed for discussion and debate in the country's most powerful legislative body. 

The kind of gridlock reflected in this startling statistic cited by Reid: half of all the filibusters of judicial and executive nominations — since the founding of the Republic — have occurred during the last four-and-a-half years. 

And that, perhaps, is the most telling and most damning of the reasons cited for why the Democrats finally chose to pull the trigger on the nuclear option now. 

Today, political savvy is out of favor and intractability is in. We seem to elect those who will stick by their guns at any cost and proclaim those who are interested in compromise are, well, "compromised."  

It is, in a way, the tyranny of the minority. We have an out-of-power party that has become so successful at obstructing it literally succeeded in shutting down the federal government. And some say it won't hesitate to do it again.

So, perhaps, the current minority party's intransigence, coupled with its hyper- obstructionist tactics, is why we are at this watershed moment — where, for the first time in the history of the Republic, the respect for the minority voice in the Senate has been compromised.

But, in attempting to break loose from the gridlock, have we taken the first step down a path to something even less desirable? 

The answer is an unqualified yes, if you ask former Republican Senate Majority Trent Lott, who is widely credited with coining the phrase "nuclear option," when the GOP came close to dropping the hammer on obstructing Democrats who, in 2003, were filibustering many of George W. Bush's nominees.

"Pretty quickly, I concluded I made a mistake," Lott told CNN Thursday. "It was natural for us to do it because we were mad about them filibustering district and circuit court judges. I was irate about it. But it can come back to bite you and they (the Democrats) are going to regret this."

“If you change the unique precedent and rules, you don’t have a Senate anymore,” Lott told the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog. 

The plain-spoken Democratic senator from West Virginia, the late Robert Byrd, apparently would have agreed with him. Back in 2010 Fox News reported that Byrd "expressed vehement opposition to changing the Senate rules on cloture, claiming changing the rules would 'destroy the uniqueness of this institution.' "

"In the hands of a tyrannical majority and leadership, that kind of emasculation of the cloture rule would mean that minority rights would cease to exist in the U.S. Senate," Byrd was quoted as saying. 

The trigger has been pulled. And it is unlikely that the decision will be reversed, no matter which party holds the majority of seats in the Senate. For when would the party in power ever be likely to vote for something to increase the power of the minority? 

Let's hope we didn't just trade one tyranny for another — for while the minority wields its power by refusing to act, an unrestrained majority, not bound by law to give the minority it's due, might be far more dangerous. 


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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CRYSTAL WARD's picture

income redistribution yet ??

Isn't every insurance income redistribution? we pool our money and redistribute to people who need it for care. We all pay in and if and when we may need million dollars for cancer treatment the money is redistributed to us . All income taxes are redistributed for services the people want like roads, plowing , police etc. In America we are all in it together -- we help each other - as the preamble to the constitution says "promote the general welfare" and " Form a more perfect union"
Like Social Security and Medicare before it the republicans are again fighting to end a program, ACA, that will help the middle class and the poor while handing money back to the rich, in the always failing theory of trickle down economics.
Since Reagan first cut taxes to the wealthy- today the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us has grown out of control -- the money has been redistributed to the wealthy and they have done little to help raise wages --which have grown little over the same time . The engine for the economy is the middle classes ability to purchase goods but with no growth in wages -- even going backwards- it is very hard to grow the economy. The billions given to the wealthy so called "job creators" have gotten us nothing -- while they hoard their billions the middle class gets smaller.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Have we traded the tyranny of the minority for the tyranny . ..

Ed , Tuesday 12:30 hst ?
Q: Have we traded the tyranny of the minority for the tyranny of the majority?
A; No •
The Republicans can change it back when they get back in power [ mark my words ? ] just like they put in Presidential terms limits when Reagan was President ( and later regretted it , Gingrich )
~ Happy T-Day ~
hth , Dr. Dosh
" Good food , good meat , good God , let's eat ."

MARK GRAVEL's picture

It just keeps getting better

It just keeps getting better with this administration. Now we are hearing from inner administration associates that ACA was known and designed to be an income redistribution scheme. Obama knew it - period.

So it looks like you middle class got taxed after all, just another broken promise from the Obumma administration.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mark ? l o l - 12:35hst ?

Mark ? l o l - 12:35hst ? Tuesday
. ...and who's your doctor ? You do have health , car , and house insurance , correct ? AIG ( the crooks ) , State Farm ( Katrina ? ) and others . We use USAA ( Unites States Automobile Association ) and recommend them ? 
We ƒear you if you do not have insurances
~ Happy turkey day ~
/s Dr. Dosh
" Open foot insert mouth [ sic.] "


Why now?

That is a very interesting question. I too wonder why they are doing this now. For Tea Party Republicans, obsessed with the ACA, it's all about health care insurance. In fact, they probably blame the typhoon in Indonesia on it. However, I have watched politics long enough to know that nothing is that simple. I'm guessing, but I think it boils down to three things. First the government shut down was so unpopular that anything that is done to prevent another one in January will be forgiven by most Americans. Secondly, it is probably intended to exacerbate the divisions within the Republican party by providing cover to moderate Republicans. Thirdly it may be a helping hand providing cover to McConnell who is getting grief from the Tea Party in his re-election bid.. Reid and McConnell are old friends after all. Regardless we have had enough of paying these clowns to posture, take bribes and solve nothing at our expense.

Claire, the tea Party

Claire, the tea Party movement is not exclusive to Republicans.


You are correct

Some of them are coming out of the closet and no longer pretending to be Republicans and calling themselves the Libertarians and corporate stooges they have always been.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Always need an enemy don't

Always need an enemy don't you Claire? You cannot fathom free and independent people not needing to rely on Uncle Sam for that empirical evidence contradicts your view of social order - lite communism.




Steve  Dosh's picture

Ladies and germs , †ouché

Ladies and germs , †ouché ?
" Better the enemy you know than the one you do not "
/s Steve :D
Happy Turkey Day Mark and ohana !
Stuƒƒ yourselves •

 's picture

You're over-thinking this.

They did it now to yank attention away from the ACA super-mess. It's not working.

And you're wrong. I blame the typhoon on the increased global warming caused by Kerry flying his hairpiece all over the world in a failing effort to look statesmanlike.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Oh, I attributed global

Oh, I attributed global warming to Obama's hot air from all those lies he has been telling.



Americans are deeply divided on just about everything political except for one thing. 90% of us hate the Congress and the dysfunction it displays every day. There is not a bigger waste of money in the government (an organization that excels at wasting money) than Congress and you would have to go far to find disagreement there. While this move is extreme is pales in comparison to the millions wasted and the pain endured by the American people in the last government shutdown. And while it may seem like nonsense to require a majority vote to rule instead of a 60 % majority I think it is still democratic. Our founding fathers intended for the Senate to be a conservative body but I don't think they intended the dysfunction we have been stuck with for the last 6 years. Perhaps the lobbyists who are funding this constant obstruction will rethink their priorities. We can always hope that they can find a better use for their millions.


Don't include me in your

Don't include me in your "90%"--wherever you got that number. Perhaps you can back that up with a credible source.



I was referring to the latest polls that put Congress' approval rating at 10% who approve and 90% that don't approve. There are several polls that have come within a few points of that in fact most of the major ones. Congrats on being part of the 10%


"latest polls." So, which one

"latest polls." So, which one specifically proves your point. And "don't approve" of what exactly? You need to do more research for your comments before you post them.

 's picture

Why restrict it to 6 years?

This is hypocrisy on a grander scale.

Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster – if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.
I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they believe they can get away with it rather than because they know it’s good for our democracy.
What (Americans) don’t expect is for one Party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game, so that they can make all the decision while the other Party is told to sit down and keep quiet.

- Sen. Barack Obama, April 2005, one of the few times he was actually in the chamber between being elected and starting his campaign for higher office. Perhaps his thinking on this has "evolved", as it has on many other issues, because of political expediency.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

"We can always hope that they

"We can always hope that they can find a better use for their millions."

Restrict the size of government and the scope of what it can control. Keep the millions of dollars in the pockets of those who earn it.


MARK GRAVEL's picture

Has anyone but myself thought

Has anyone but myself thought about why the Senate waits nearly 6 years into this administration to change Senate rules on the filibuster? It sure is not an altruistic approach to ending gridlock.

Obumma care is such a disaster that Democrats fear losing the Senate in 2014 or both the Senate and Whitehouse in 2016. The Democrats want to stuff Federal Court seats with leftist judges while they can – desperate acts of a lame duck.

That is okay because this shortsighted maneuver will come back to haunt the Democrats when the Republicans take majority in the Senate. Payback will be a bitch; I cannot wait to hear the Democrats cry foul then.

Minority parties henceforth will be powerless thanks to the Democrats. They may not have gridlock, but they will have policies they don’t like crammed down their throats with no recourse. Democrats will not control the Senate forever.

 's picture

I think you're right.

Given this Thursday, I would amend that to "desperate acts of a lame turkey".

MARK GRAVEL's picture



Betty Davies's picture

The minority has already had its "due"

Republican leaders shut down the government, causing billions of dollars of damage to America's economy and harming our reputation worldwide. Their objective? To make sure Americans don't have access to affordable health insurance. They've had their "due"--and look what they did with it. No more chances for them.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I think all Americans see

I think all Americans see Obumma Care is a cluster F and a complete disaster. The only positive feedback coming out of Obumma care are from those people who are getting it for free while the rest of the population paying for this mess is suffering.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Squawk, Polly want a cracker

Squawk, Polly want a cracker - liberal squawk.

Pot, kettle, etc.

You're pretty good at parroting the libertarian/tea party line yourself. So, really, you're no more capable of thinking for yourself that you accuse Claire of being.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Let's explore this a bit

Let's explore this a bit more:

1. When is sound fiscal policy (i.e. pay as you go) not better compared to long-term debt spending?
2. Bureaucracies more efficient than smaller government?
3. When is forcing people to buy products that they don't want good for the country?

Time to man up.

Ah yes...

When in a corner, deflect deflect deflect.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

One more question. How many

One more question. How many libertarian talking points do you hear in the media? Not to many that is why you had throw in the Tea Party name, otherwise your argument would look even that much more foolish.

I said nothing in the media.

I said nothing in the media. You don't think I know any libertarians who speak pretty much from the same script you do? Tea Party drones are wannabe libertarians (who don't notice or conveniently ignore that Libertarians are not social conservatives because regulating what people do in their own homes and bedrooms is none of their business), though I do beleive your views are more along the more self-interested and self-centered views of those who follow Ayn Rand. Who I find even more naive and foolish that libertarians.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I'll take that response as

I'll take that response as you don't have any answers, clueless.

This country will do fine with less spending. We'll all wake up every morning. I can lead the horse to water, yet I cannot make the horse drink.

Keep waiting.

I don't provide answers to naive fools and trolls, of which you are both.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

It is okay for you to admit

It is okay for you to admit that you don't know the answers; there is no need to get defensive.

Steve  Dosh's picture

btw - the article was about

btw - the article was about ' ƒilibustering ' and not ' gerrymandering ' hth /s Steve :P


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